Arsenal Coach Mark Munchel learned to hunt and fish before he could read. Mark has always been a doer and a mover, learning from experience.
As an exercise science major at Ball State, Mark had to complete 90 hours of volunteering at fitness facilities in the community. Mark worked at the Y for 30 hours, shadowed a personal trainer at a private facility for 30 hours, and in August of 2013, he started hanging around the Arsenal.
“I did my hours there,” Mark told me, “and asked if I could stay on because I loved it and I was learning so much. I was learning more there than I was in the classroom.”
His 30 hours turned into an internship and more than 1,000 hours of being a gym rat at The Arsenal. He’s just always sort of there tweaking an athlete’s lift, or mopping, or holding a sleeping baby in the playroom, or all three at the same time.
But it wasn’t the Arsenal that introduced him to CrossFit.
“I have kind of the classic CrossFit story of doing Fran at the YMCA one day and vomiting in the trash can. Then it was all about pumping out my chest and drinking protein shakes with a bunch of milk in it. And I was like, “Hey, I’ll just try Fran!” I did Fran and the very next day I did Grace with clean and jerks, and after that, I was out for about a week. I was just so sore, and I was like, ‘This is the best workout I’ve ever gotten, including soccer. I’m going to do this more.’ It was more dynamic, I liked the gymnastic movements because I was good at them.”
Nerd Mark defends CrossFit
Mark’s studies informed his CrossFit coaching, and CrossFit informed his studies.
“I see your skeleton moving. I see your bones, I see your posture, I see your sitting. It just all translates to me very well. I try to hold it back, but if someone starts asking me about it then Nerd Mark comes out. Honestly, I’ve probably learned more through CrossFit than my whole four years at Ball State. Just because it’s hands on, and it’s applied. Knowing the bones is one thing, but knowing why the bones are shaped the way they are and feeling the muscle on someone and how it translates is a whole different ball game. I’m more of a hands on guy.”
Sometimes Nerd Mark is in the position of explaining CrossFit to his classmates.
“I have to defend CrossFit a lot.”
“In my resistance training class, which covers basic lifts, I get looked down on in class for being a CrossFit coach. One day we were watching a video of movement standards being done wrong. Sure enough a guy pulls up a video of kipping pullups. I gave my professor props, he told everyone not to judge.
I broke it down. ‘They are training for a different result. He’s not doing it to build muscle but for speed. It’s metabolic conditioning.’”
If you’ve been doing CrossFit for any length of time, you’ve been in the exact same position. It’s just that Mark has more arrows in his quiver than my go-to, “Nuh-uh! CrossFit is awesome! You’re ugly!”
Mark and I chatted a bit about one of CrossFit’s biggest controversies: CrossFit vs. the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The NSCA released a study that praised CrossFit’s benefits but also criticized its risk to athletes. Of course CrossFit refutes this and explains their side of things in this painfully boring video. This argument is being played out in court, and I’m not bringing it up for any reason other than to underline the fact that it can be challenging to be a CrossFitter studying exercise science.
People forget what it’s like to be rooted for
Mark isn’t the first CrossFit member to come out of exercise science. Exercise scientist, Aly Williams has been an Arsenal member from the beginning and praised the benefits of CrossFit when I sat down with her.
Aly along with, Jules Carter, and Teresa Calvert have been key community connections for Mark.
“[The CrossFit community] is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, bringing people together. I think it is because of the pain. I’ve talked to past athletes and asked what’s that one thing you miss about sports? It’s not the friends, it’s not the practice, the looking good, it’s hearing the crowd rooting for you on that Friday night. You know your mom and dad are cheering for you from the stands, that motivation. And people lose that, they forget what it feels like to be rooted for.”
“I remember one time I came back from having a nasal reconstructive surgery, and I was the last person doing the WOD, and even though I was the last person, I still got cheered on. I’ll see workouts where people are expressing themselves in the gym, breaking down in tears because it’s been a bad day or a rough week. When you finally break that wall and get to somebody, it brings you so much closer together.”
Teresa, a veterinarian, and Jules, a massage therapist, have helped guide Mark. They accompanied him to Chicago where Teresa introduced Mark to one of her mentors, and now Mark is considering becoming a chiropractor. Mark graduates in July and is considering starting school in 2016.
The one thing all athletes need to work on (it’s not what you think)
Since Mark spends so much time in the gym he sees the best of us and the worst of us. And there is one thing he’d like to see us try harder at: the warmup.
“I would encourage people to go harder during the warmup. If you don’t warm up and prepare the body enough, and then you apply a lot of resistance, yeah, you might get away with it for a day, a week, a month, but years and years of that? It’s not good. One of the coolest things I saw on a video, because I watch a LOT of videos, was of a film crew interviewing Rich Froning. They watched him all day and the one thing they took away was that Froning spent ten minutes each day to work on his air squats. Not worrying about anything else, not a 500lb squat. He spent ten minutes doing the air squat. That just resonated with me. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you need to practice everything.”
Work until the work is done
Mark grew up in Southeast Indiana, the grandson of a farmer. His grandfather passed on that farmer work ethic to him.
“You don’t work until the sun is down, you work until you are done. I remember my grandfather would come down for dinner and harass all of us. We’d do the dishes, and we’d do it too quick – he’d tell us to do it the right way.”
Mark’s grandfather was a medic in Vietnam and was one of only two of 52 soldiers in his company to survive. Mark believes his grandfather’s faith played a part and that God had plans for him. His grandfather’s first born son, Mark’s uncle, became a priest, and faith has always been a source of strength in their family. Mark told me that his own faith was stronger than he would ever be physically.
“Religion is one of my biggest motivators. My energy, my nutrition, my adrenaline will wear out, my faith will not. I work out in complete silence or country music. It’s home, it’s religion for me, it’s my motivation over anything. That internal strength keeps pushing me forward.”
“CrossFit is like going to church.”